Le Mans, 4H: Iron Dames lead after opening hours
After heroic first stints by Rahel Frey and great strategy calls from the team, Iron Dames lead the GTE-AM class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans after 4 hours, having recovered from 12th on the grid.
The second century of racing at Le Mans is underway. A chaotic and incredibly action-packed first four hours of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans resulted in a shuffle of the order at the end of the third hour, when a second safety car for torrential rain meant that the #94 Peugeot took the overall lead, as the Toyotas - which led the race from the beginning - have dropped down the order. Rahel Frey has been one of the protagonists of the opening hours, as the Swiss ace put her monumental experience on the table and brought the #85 Iron Dames Porsche from P12 to second in class. The Italian team has made the perfect strategy calls so far and allowed a spectacular recovery up the order - and the driver has executed brilliantly, making no mistakes while several highly-rated drivers were caught out by a variety of chaotic situations. Once behind the wheel, Sarah Bovy found herself in the lead during the second safety car, as she handled the extremely tricky weather conditions. After a great start for Daniil Kvyat in the #63 Prema LMP2 Oreca - who briefly led on the first lap, before settling in second - Doriane Pin's teammate hit trouble at the end of the first safety car, when the car dropped down the order and was pitted to change bodywork. Kvyat had a challenging double stint and Doriane Pin has since then taken over from P21 in class. The young Frenchwoman - at her first Le Mans - has since then gained a few positions. Also starting fifth in class, Alessio Rovera was behind the wheel of the #83 Richard Mille Racing Ferrari which he shared with Luis Perez Companc and Lilou Wadoux. Rovera made up a few positions, but then settled in fifth after the first stop. The car dropped down the order when bronze-rated driver Perez Companc completed his stint, but a sudden downpour during Lilou Wadoux's outlap resulted in a big crash for the Ferrari factory driver. After 4 hours, her race is unfortunately over. Here's what happened in the first four hours of the Centenary edition of the 24 hours of Le Mans. With light rain just before the start, everyone tried to be extremely cautious on the first lap, but a massive crash for Jack Aitken at the exit of the second chicane left #311 Cadillac with a destroyed front end of the car. Meanwhile, just before the safety car was deployed, the #8 Toyota jumped ahead of the Ferraris with Sebastien Buemi taking the lead into Indianapolis on the first lap, after jumping ahead of the Porsches at the first corner with a very bold start. The #63 Oreca of Kvyat, briefly in the LMP2 class lead, had picked up slight damage. IDEC Sport's Chatin reclaimed the lead of LMP2 from Daniil Kvyat after the Prema driver had to cut a chicane, dropping to second. With her experience, Frey stayed out of trouble and held P12 for Iron Dames. The all female team took advantage of the safety car to take a first pit stop at the end of the second lap, while barrier repairs were underway. Alessio Rovera meanwhile had taken third in GTE-AM in the Richard Mille entry.
40 minutes later, the race was back underway with the #8 Toyota leading the pack, the other Toyota following in second after a pass before Indianapolis on the #50 Ferrari. At the restart, Kvyat dropped to eighth in LMP2 and then had to pit to change front and rear bodywork, having picked up debris from the crashed Cadillac hypercar. Frey gained two places and started to recover positions - as did some of the other Porsches in the top five, which demoted the Richard Mille Ferrari to fifth. Davide Rigon (AF Corse) held the top of the class after one hour of racing, followed by the #56 Project 1 Porsche and the #60 Iron Lynx Porsche. Both the Porsche would overtake Rigon on lap 12. One hour and 15 minutes in, the first round of scheduled pit stops started across all classes. Alessio Rovera pitted on lap 15 and handed over to Luis Perez Companc, who would rejoin in P16. After the GTE round of pit stops, Rahel Frey had taken the Iron Dames pink Porsche up to eighth - but was off sequence after the early stop under Safety Car. When the #33 Corvette pole-sitting car of Keating hit trouble and was wheeled into the garage, Frey climbed to seventh. Kvyat had to pit again in the #63 Prema after 1 hour and a half of racing, also having gone off sequence due to the earlier repairs. He remained in the car and rejoined P21. A big crash at the Dunlop chicane for the Nielsen Racing LMP2 of Rodrigo Sales brought out a slow zone, followed by another yellow on the Mulsanne straight for a big off by Tower motorsport's Ricky Taylor - and the top hypercars took the opportunity to pit again. It was a good moment to pit for the #85 Iron Dames Porsche, as Frey came in from fourth place: Rahel remained at the wheel and moved up to third place. When the Project 1 Porsche of Cairoli pitted after 29 laps, Rahel advanced to second place, but was chased by the #911 Proton Porsche driven by platinum-rated Richard Lietz. After a double stint, former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat pitted the Prema Oreca from P18 and handed over to Doriane Pin on lap 29, who officially started her first Le Mans 24 Hours. When a new slow zone was deployed 2 hours and 40 minutes in - brought out by a collision by the #22 United Autosport LMP2 and the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche - GTE-AM leader Riccardo Pera (#86 GR Racing Porsche) had his third pit stop under yellow. Meanwhile, light rain started in the final sector. The conditions worsened and multiple cars - including the #709 Glickenhaus and the #3 Cadillac, as well as the GTE leading #86 Porsche going off track - eventually triggering the safety car just before the fourth hour of racing. Rahel Frey pitted under Safety Car for wet tyres and handed over to Sarah Bovy - now under the pouring rain. The Belgian retained second in class - and then took the lead once the #54 AF Corse Ferrari pitted for its driver change. Having dropped to P14 in GTE-AM, Lilou Wadoux had just started her first stint of the race in the #83 Richard Mille Ferrari when the rain came; the young French driver went off at speed and hit the barriers backwards. Unfortunately, her race was done after one outlap. After four hours of racing, the #94 Peugeot incredibly led the overall race, having been brought to the top during the torrential rain by Gustavo Menezes. He is followed by the Hertz Team Jota Porsche which started from the back of the field, while the #50 pole-winning Ferrari holds third. After leading the whole first part of the race, the two Toyotas dropped to eighth and ninth.